The Off-Screen
An Investigation of the Cinematic Frame
Eyal Peretz


Contents and Abstracts
The Unframing Image
chapter abstract

The book opens its investigation of the category of the "off" by examining a paradigmatic painting of the early modern period, Rembrandt's The Sacrifice of Isaac. The painting is shown to involve a reflection on the historical significance of the modern category of the "off". The key element is the painting's attempt to differentiate the dimension of the outside the frame (the "off") of a modern painting from the outside the frame in a sacred image. While in the sacred image the outside is conceived as the divine, in the modern painting the outside marks the disappearance of the divine. This new dimension of the "off" is also conceived, due to its critique of the logic of the divine, as what allows for a liberation from the logic of sacrifice that guided the monotheistic religions.

The Off-Screen: Shakespeare, Bruegel, Tarkovsky
chapter abstract

The paradigmatic articulation for the modern age of the work of art's relation to the "off" is Hamlet. Hamlet's ghost, occupying the off-stage as the play begins, is a figure for the dimension of the "off-stage." The figure of the ghost appears with the disappearance of divine order, and the work of art, which now becomes fascinated with the new dimension of the "off," becomes the arena for showing ghosts, replacing the sacred work as an arena for showing the divine. In order to demonstrate the generality of this matrix the book engages in a discussion of Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and Tarkovsky's Solaris which, much like Hamlet<\i>, show the emergence of the modern work of art to depend on the disappearance of divine order, associated in both works with the death of the father.

1 On the Origin of Film and the Resurrection of the People: D.W. Griffith's Intolerance<\i>
chapter abstract

This chapter consists of a reading of Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance. From the point of view of the development of cinematic grammar, Griffith is perhaps most famous for two things: for having basically invented cinematic montage—a logic of cinematic cutting—and for having liberated the location of the camera, no longer having it simulate the position of a theatrical audience, freeing it from occupying a constant center and distance in relation to which a stage opens. These innovations meant that the perspective and order of cinematic shots were no longer subjected to the principle of a given center; any shot could follow any given shot, without any pre-established reason or meaning. The chapter demonstrates how these innovations are fundamentally based on Griffith's understanding of the dimension of the off-screen.

2 The Actor of the Crowd–The Great Dictator: Chaplin, Riefenstahl, Lang
chapter abstract

This chapter stages a confrontation, a confrontation which Chaplin himself staged in The Great Dictator, between the two most famous and influential screen "personas" of the 20th century, Chaplin and Hitler. Both Chaplin and Hitler understood the screen as an arena in relation to which the question of the modern city crowd is raised, and they both saw their task, the task of a movie star, as transforming the crowds, helping them out of their condition of anxiety of the modern world and abandonment by the ruling powers. However, whereas Chaplin's project is a revolutionary and liberatory one, allowing the crowds to conceive of themselves as part of an unprecedented democratic project, Hitler's "project" cancels the freedom of the crowds and submits them to a ruling fascistic identity.

3 Howard Hawks's Idea of Genre
chapter abstract

In this chapter the book extends its demonstration that the dimension of the off-screen is the very heart of the medium of film by showing how it can become the lens through which to examine another fundamental cinematic question, that of film genre. The chapter is dedicated to a reading of a single film of Howard Hawks, the relatively late work Monkey Business, through which it also opens up the general Hawksian poetics. The chapter demonstrates that Hawks' brilliance consists in having understood genres to be differing modalities of inscription of the dimension of the "off". Monkey Business transitions between dozens of genres displaying the main Hawksian principle of genre: there is no sense of speaking, as in the classical theory of genres, about a hierarchy of genres (tragedy is high, comedy is low, farce even lower, etc.), nor about a limitation of their number.

4 What is a Cinema of Jewish Vengeance? Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
chapter abstract

This chapter examines film genre by taking a look at the project of a cinematic heir of Hawks, Quentin Tarantino, in his Inglourious Basterds. Moving as he does between multiple genres without hierarchy, Tarantino discovers in Inglourious Basterds the weight behind this logic, which is that of making the screen the arena of a historical witnessing to the dimension of the "off". The film expresses three main cinematic ideas. First, that the only way for film to activate the dimension of the "off" is by creating an unstable generic system where cracks between genres allow the "off-screen" to leak into the film. Second, that violence has to do with the attempt to eliminate the "off," and is always accompanied by the creation of images without an "off." Third, that the task of the modern cinematic image is to liberate the image from all false images.